Production resumed Saturday at French nuclear giant Areva's two uranium mines in Niger, which had shut down for weeks for maintenance amid hard-fought negotiations over the firm's tax rate. "The machines are running and production resumed this morning," Salifou Chipkaou, secretary general of mining union SYNAMIN, told AFP by phone from the mining town of Arlit in northern Niger. An Areva spokesman confirmed that operations had resumed at the two mines, Cominak and Somair. The shutdown came as Niger's government and the company, which is 80 percent owned by the French state, are holding tough talks over the future of uranium mining in the west African country, which is the world's fourth-largest uranium producer but is mired in poverty and ranks last on the United Nations' Human Development Index. The government wants to apply a 2006 mining law that ends tax breaks for foreign companies to Areva, which has thus far been exempt, but the firm is seeking to keep costs down. Chipkaou accused Areva of exaggerating the need for maintenance and negotiating in "bad faith", using the shutdown to pressure the government. He said the actual maintenance work at Cominak lasted only from December 25 to 31, and at Somair from January 1 to 25. Areva's contract to operate the mines expired at the end of last year, but the government has decreed they can be worked while negotiations continue. Areva has operated the mines since the early 1970s, and pays royalties on extracted ore of just 5.5 percent under deals Niger signed with France, its former colonial ruler, in 1961 and 1968. If the 2006 law were applied, its tax rate would rise to 12 percent. Last year, uranium brought in 70 billion CFA francs (107 million euros, $144 million) for Niger, less than five percent of the national budget.